Middle East

Putin criticises arms supplies to Syrian rebels

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses participants of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

ST PETERSBURG, Russia: President Vladimir Putin on Friday defended Russian arms supplies to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and said the West should not deliver weapons to rebel forces because they include "terrorist" groups.

"If the United States ... recognises one of the key Syrian opposition organisations, al-Nusra, as terrorist ... how can one deliver arms to those opposition members?" Putin said in an appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Russian economic forum.

"Where will (those weapons) end up? What role will they play?" he said.

France proposed in May that the United Nations declare the al-Nusra Front a terrorist organisation, to differentiate it from other Syrian rebel groups. The United States did so last year and says the group is little more than a front for al Qaeda.

U.S. President Barack Obama decided a week ago to provide military aid to rebels trying to overthrow Assad, citing use of chemical weapons by government forces.

Russia has been Assad's most powerful foreign protector during a conflict that has killed at least 93,000 people since it began in March 2011.

Putin reiterated Russia's statement that it is violating no laws by providing arms to a standing government and suggested it was foreign supporters of Syrian rebels who were doing that.

"It's clear that without deliveries from abroad, what is happening in Syria now would simply be impossible. Money is going in, weapons are going in, and well trained armed groups are going in," Putin said.





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